Introduction to Health care accounting and financial Management


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Do I Really NeeD to
UNDeRstaND accoUNt-
INg to Be aN effectIve
HealtH caRe MaNageR?
Today’s health care system, with its many types
of health care organizations, is extremely
complex. The science of health care, the
physical maintenance of facilities, and the
interactions and human behaviors within the
organizations are complex, as are the finan-
cial and accounting requirements. The com-
plexity of today’s environment has resulted
in the spread of accounting and financial
management to all areas within a health care
organization. Accounting and financial man-
agement are no longer the sole purview of
the finance department. Nurse-managers are
held responsible for the financial manage-
ment of their units; pharmacy directors are
making significant financial management
decisions on a daily basis; and operating room
(OR) managers must maintain efficient utili-
zation rates, as well as keeping patients flow-
ing through the OR, to maintain the financial
health of the organization.
To be successful, health care managers
and executives, regardless of the specific
area within a health care organization they
lead, must all have a firm understanding
of accounting and financial management.
It is clear that not everyone will become the
chief financial officer, but everyone is mak-
ing financial decisions and needs to be able
to communicate effectively with financial
WHat Is fINaNcIal MaNageMeNt?
This book focuses on health care account-
ing and finance (figure 1-1). Accounting is a
system for providing financial information.
It is generally broken down into two prin-
cipal elements: financial accounting and
managerial accounting. Finance has tradi-
tionally been thought of as the area of finan-
cial management that supervises the acqui-
sition and disposition of the organization’s
resources, especially cash.
Chapter 1
Introduction to Health care accounting
and financial Management
and Finance
figure 1-1 Accounting and Finance
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2 Accounting Fundamentals for Health Care Management
The financial accounting aspect of account-
ing is a formalized system designed to record
the financial history of the health care orga-
nization. The financial accountant is simply
a historian who uses dollar signs. An inte-
gral part of the financial accountant’s job
is to report the organization’s history from
time to time to interested individuals, usu-
ally through the organization’s quarterly
and annual reports.
The managerial accountant looks forward;
the financial accountant looks backward.
Instead of reporting on what has hap-
pened, the managerial accountant provides
financial information that might be used
for making improved decisions regard-
ing the future. In many organizations the
same individual is responsible for providing
both financial and managerial accounting
The role of finance has expanded sig-
nificantly from the functions of borrowing
funds and investing excess cash resources of
the firm. In its broader sense, the finance
function involves providing financial anal-
yses to improve decisions that affect the
wealth of the organization. Whereas the
managerial accountant provides the infor-
mation for use in the analyses, the finance
officer often performs the actual analyses.
WHat aRe tHe goals of fINaN-
cIal MaNageMeNt WItHIN
HealtH caRe oRgaNIzatIoNs?
At first, one might say that the goal of finan-
cial management is to aid in the maximiza-
tion of wealth, or more simply, the maximi-
zation of the organization’s profits. Profits
are, after all, literally, the bottom line.
However, the health care environment has
many other goals—for example, improving
the health and well-being of the community,
providing the highest quality health care
services, and minimizing morbidity and
mortality. For many health care organiza-
tions (e.g., not-for-profit hospitals), maxi-
mization of profit may not be a goal at all,
although at least some profit is usually nec-
essary to ensure the financial well-being of
even these organizations.
On a more personal level, managers are
concerned with maximization of salaries and
benefits. In a for-profit organization, such
maximization is often tied in with the maxi-
mization of return on investments (ROI),
return on equity (ROE), return on assets
(ROA), or return on net assets (RONA; see
Chapter 14). The list of goals within the
organization is relatively endless.
From the perspective of financial manage-
ment, there are two overriding goals: profit-
ability and viability (figure 1-2). The orga-
nization wants to be profitable, and it wants
to continue doing business. It is possible to
be profitable, yet fail to be able to continue
in business. Both goals require some clari-
fication and additional discussion, because
these goals surface throughout this book.
As stated, many health care organizations
do not have maximization of profit as a goal,
but even those organizations must generate
some level of profit to achieve their other
goals. Whether for-profit or not-for-profit,
health care organizations need profits to
invest in expansion of services so there is
wider access to health care. They also need
figure 1-2 Organizational Goals
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Chapter 1: Introduction to Health Care Accounting and Financial Management 3
to earn profits on some patients in order to
subsidize those patients who are unable
to bear the costs of their services. Health
care organizations need profits to acquire
new technologies to improve the quality of
health care. Further, health care organiza-
tions need to earn profits in order to have
money available should an emergency arise.
Finally, profits are needed so that health care
organizations can replace old buildings and
equipment as they wear out. Replacement
facilities are often more expensive than
those they replace, due to inflation if noth-
ing else, and profits are used to cover some
of those higher costs. For this reason, we
use the terms profit and profitability, even
when referring to not-for-profit health care
This does not mean that profits are the only
goal. They are not even always the primary
goal. High-quality health care often comes
first. However, we must always bear in mind
that profits are necessary to achieve the goals
related to providing high-quality care.
In maximizing profits, there is always a
trade-off with risk (figure 1-3). The greater
the risk we must incur, the greater the antic-
ipated profit or return on our money we
demand. Certainly, given two equally risky
projects that provide similar health benefits
to the community, we would always choose
to undertake one with a greater anticipated
return. More often than not, however, our
situation centers on whether the return on a
specific investment is great enough to justify
the risk involved.
Consider keeping funds in a passbook
account insured by the Federal Deposit
Insurance Corporation (FDIC). You might
earn a profit or return (in nominal terms—
we’ll talk about inflation later) of less than
2%. This return is low, but so is the risk.
Alternatively, you could put your money
in a nonbank money market fund where
the return might be considerably higher.
However, the FDIC would not insure the
investment, increasing the risk. Or you
could put your money in the stock market.
In general, do we expect our stocks to do
better or worse than a money market fund?
Well, the risks inherent in the stock market
are significantly higher than in a money
market fund. If the expected return were
not higher, would anyone invest in the stock
This does not mean that everyone
chooses to accept the same level of risk.
Some people keep all their money in bank
accounts; others choose the most specula-
tive of stocks. Some organizations are more
willing than others to accept a high risk to
achieve a high potential profit. The key here
is that, in numerous business decisions, the
organization is faced with a trade-off—risk
versus return. Throughout this book, when
decisions are considered, the question that
arises is, “Are the extra profits worth the
risk?” It is, we hope, a question you will be
more comfortable answering before reach-
ing the end of this book.
As noted, profits are not the sole reason
health care organizations exist. Sometimes,
profits are just a means to an end and not an
end in itself at all. Health care organizations
should always make decisions that keep their
underlying mission in mind. Throughout
this book, we provide many techniques to
help you make the best financial decision,
other things being equal. We realize, how-
ever, that other things are not always equal.
figure 1-3 Profitability Trade-Off
Risk Return
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4 Accounting Fundamentals for Health Care Management
If two projects yield the same health benefit,
the one with greater profits or lower risk is
usually the better choice. However, if the
health care benefits are not equal, then man-
agers need to factor that into their decision-
making process. Sometimes you may decide
that you are willing to accept a lower profit
or to take a bigger risk to, hopefully, achieve
better health outcomes.
Health care organizations have no desire to
go bankrupt, so it is no surprise that one of
the crucial goals of financial management is
ensuring financial viability. This goal is often
measured in terms of liquidity and solvency.
(figure 1-4)
Liquidity is a measure of the amount of
resources an organization has that are cash,
or are convertible to cash in the near-term,
to meet the obligations the organization
has that are coming due in the near-term.
Accountants use “near-term,” “short-term,”
and “current” interchangeably. Generally,
the near-term means 1 year or less. Thus, an
organization is liquid if it has enough near-
term resources to meet its near-term obliga-
tions as they become due for payment.
Solvency is the same concept as viability,
but from a long-term perspective, where
long-term means more than 1 year. Will the
organization have enough cash generation
potential over the next 3, 5, and 10 years to
meet the major cash needs that will occur
over those periods? An organization must
plan for adequate solvency well in advance
because the potentially large amounts of
cash involved may take a long period to gen-
erate. The roots of liquidity crises that put
organizations out of business are often bur-
ied in inadequate long-term solvency plan-
ning in earlier years.
So, a good strategy is maximization of your
organization’s liquidity and solvency, right?
Wrong. Managers have a complex problem
with respect to liquidity. Every dollar kept in
liquid form, such as cash, T-bills, or money
market funds, is a dollar that could have been
invested by the organization in some longer
term, higher yielding project or investment.
There is a trade-off in the area of viability and
profitability. The more profitable the man-
ager attempts to make the organization, by
keeping it fully invested, the lower the liquid-
ity and the greater the possibility of a liquidity
crisis and even bankruptcy. The more liquid
the organization is kept, the lower the profits.
This is essentially a special case of the trade-off
between risk and return previously discussed.
Similarly, there is a trade-off between
providing health care services and viability.
Health care organizations cannot always pro-
vide all the health care services that patients
might want regardless of their ability to pay.
Although providing charity care is often
appropriate, there must be limits. If the
organization decides to provide unlimited
charity care without consideration of the
financial implications, that might threaten
its viability or continued existence.
Health care organizations have to temper
the desire to provide health care services,
regardless of ability to pay, with the desire
to continue doing business. It does not do
the community any good for a health care
provider to provide so much charity care in
1 year that it goes bankrupt and ceases oper-
ations. It is better to provide a measured
amount of charity care so the provider can
remain viable. That way, the provider can
figure 1-4 Viability
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Chapter 1: Introduction to Health Care Accounting and Financial Management 5
continue to serve the community, including
the poor, on a long-term basis.
We mentioned that profitability and via-
bility are conceptually similar but not syn-
onymous. An organization can be profitable
every year, yet go bankrupt anyway. How can
this happen? Frequently, this is the result of
rapid growth and poor financial planning.
Consider a privately held medical supplies
company, Expanding Medical Supplies,
whose sales are so good that it constantly
needs to expand its inventory on hand.
Such expansion requires cash payments to
manufacturers well in advance of ultimate
cash receipts from customers.
Assume that Expanding Medical Supplies
starts the year with $40,000 in cash, $80,000
of receivables (i.e., amounts customers owe
Expanding for goods and services, which
they have not yet paid), and 10,000 units of
inventory. Its inventory units (the medical
supply items) are sold for $10 each, and they
have a cost of $8, yielding a profit of $2 on
each unit sold. During January, Expanding
Medical Supplies collects all the receivables
that were owed to it at the start of the year (no
bad debts!), thus, increasing available cash to
$120,000. January sales are 10,000 units, up
2,000 from the 8,000 units sold in December.
Due to increased sales, Expanding Medical
Supplies decides to expand inventory to
12,000 units. Of the $120,000 available, it
spends $96,000 on replacement and expan-
sion of inventory (12,000 units acquired at $8
each). No cash is collected yet for sales made
in January. This leaves a January month-end
cash balance of $24,000.
$ 40,000 Cash, January 1
+ 80,000 Plus collections during January
$ 120,000 Cash available
– 96,000 Less payments for inventory
$ 24,000 Cash balance, January 31
During February, all $100,000 of receiv-
ables from January’s sales (10,000 units at
$10 each) are collected, increasing the
available cash to $124,000. In February, the
entire 12,000 units on hand are sold and are
replaced in stock, with an expanded total
inventory of 15,000 units.
$ 24,000 Cash, January 31
Plus collections during
+ 100,000 February
$ 124,000 Cash available
Less payments for inventory
– 120,000 (15,000 units at $8 each)
$ 4,000 Cash balance, February 28
Everyone at Expanding Medical Supplies
is overjoyed. They are making $2 on each
unit sold and are collecting 100% of their
sales on a timely basis. There appears to be
unlimited growth potential for increasing
sales and profits. The reader may suspect
that we are going to pull the rug out from
under Expanding Medical Supplies by hav-
ing sales drop or customers stop paying, but
that is not the case.
In March, Expanding Medical Supplies
collects $120,000 from its February sales.
This is added to the $4,000 cash balance
from the end of February, for an available
cash balance of $124,000 in March. During
March, all 15,000 units of inventory are sold,
and inventory is replaced and expanded to
20,000 units. Times have never been better,
except for one problem: Expanding Medical
Supplies has only $124,000 in cash, but the
bill for its March purchases is $160,000
(20,000 units at $8 each). It is $36,000 short
in terms of cash needed to meet current
needs. Depending on its supplier and its
banker, Expanding Medical Supplies may
be bankrupt.
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6 Accounting Fundamentals for Health Care Management
$ 4,000 Cash, February 28
+ 120,000 Plus collections during March
$ 124,000 Cash available
Less payments for inventory
– 160,000 (20,000 units at $8 each)
$ (36,000) Cash balance, March 31
Two key factors make this kind of sce-
nario common: The first is that growth
implies outlay of substantial amounts of cash
for the increased inventory levels needed to
handle growing sales volume. The second is
that growth is often accompanied by expan-
sion of plant and equipment, again, well in
advance of the ultimate receipt of cash from
Do growing organizations have to go
bankrupt? Obviously not, but they do need
to plan their liquidity and solvency, along
with their growth. The key is to focus on
long-term plans for cash. It is often said
that banks prefer to lend to those who don’t
need the money. Certainly, banks do not like
to lend to organizations, such as Expanding
Medical Supplies, who are desperate for
the money. A more sensible approach for
Expanding Medical Supplies than going to
a bank in March would be to lay out a long-
term plan for how much it expects to grow
and what the cash needs are for that amount
of growth. The money can then be obtained
by issuing bonds and additional shares of
stock (see Chapter 17), or orderly bank
financing can be anticipated and approved
well in advance.
Apparently, even in a profitable environ-
ment, cash flow projections are a real con-
cern. Liquidity and solvency are crucial to an
organization’s viability. Therefore, through-
out the book, we return to this issue, as well
as that of profitability. In fact, the reader will
become aware that a substantial amount of
emphasis in financial accounting is placed
on providing the user of financial informa-
tion with indications of the organization’s
liquidity and solvency.
HoW Does accoUNtINg fIt INto
fINaNcIal MaNageMeNt?
As mentioned, financial accounting is like
history with dollar signs, and as with many
things in life, we can learn a great deal from
history. To that end, financial accounting,
often taking the form of balance sheets and
income statements, can help managers make
ongoing decisions to help the organization
maintain both its profitability and viability.
In Chapter 3, we introduce the reader to
the financial environment of today’s health
care organizations. There are a number of
unique aspects of health care that require
a solid understanding before one can start
to completely understand accounting and
the financial statements that are generated
by accountants. Chapter 4 introduces basic
accounting concepts used within the broader
framework of financial management.
Key coNcePts
Financial management—Management of
the finances of the organization to maximize
the organization’s wealth and the achieve-
ment of its other goals.
Accounting—The provision of financial
a. Financial accounting—Provision of ret-
rospective information, regarding the
financial position of the organization
and the results of its operations.
b. Managerial accounting—Provision of pro-
spective financial information for mak-
ing improved managerial decisions.
Finance—Provision of analyses, concern-
ing the acquisition and disposition of the
organization’s resources.
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Chapter 1: Introduction to Health Care Accounting and Financial Management 7
What are the primary goals of finan-3.
cial management for not-for-profit
health care organizations?
What are the uses of profit for health 4.
care organizations?
Explain the relationship between fi-5.
nancial risk and financial return.
Why doesn’t every person or orga-6.
nization invest all available funds
into the stock market, which has the
highest expected return?
What do accountants mean when they 7.
say “short-term” and “long-term”?
Explain how an organization’s liquid-8.
ity and solvency are related.
Goals of Financial Management
a. Profitability—A trade-off always exists
between maximization of expected
profits and the acceptable level of
risk. Undertaking greater risk requires
greater anticipated returns.
b. Viability—A trade-off always exists
between viability and profitability.
Greater liquidity results in more safety,
but lower profits.
test yoUR KNoWleDge
Explain the primary functions of 1.
Explain the primary functions of 2.
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